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The Life Cycle of the Painted Lady (Thistle Butterfly)

The life cycle of the Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) unfolds as a captivating tale of transformation, spanning four distinct stages that showcase the intricacies of nature’s design. This resilient and widely distributed butterfly species embarks on a journey that commences with the delicate placement of eggs on host plants. As these eggs hatch, they give rise to voracious caterpillars that voraciously feed on their designated host plants, undergoing multiple molts and transformations. The caterpillar then enters a fascinating pupal stage, during which it undergoes a profound metamorphosis within its protective chrysalis. Finally, the adult Painted Lady emerges, revealing its distinctive and vibrant wings adorned with striking patterns. The life cycle of the Painted Lady butterfly not only exemplifies the marvels of biological adaptation but also underscores the perpetual cycle of renewal and transformation in the intricate tapestry of the natural world.


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Egg (3 to 5 Days)

The life of a painted lady begins when a female lays an egg on the host plant. The female painted lady butterfly may lay her eggs on soybean, sunflower, canola, mint and other crops. In 3 to 5 days a caterpillar will emerge from a tiny green egg which is small enough to fit on top of a needle. Once the caterpillar hatches it turns around to eat its egg for its first meal which has lots of proteins for it. 

Caterpillar (​8 to 14 Days)

Once the caterpillar hatches from the egg it is so tiny that it looks almost like an ant. The painted lady goes through five stages of instars which are also known as growth stages. The growth stage starts when the caterpillar sheds its skin and moves on to the next growth stage. Between each stage the caterpillar grows larger in size up to 2 inches before it is ready to pupate and go into the chrysalis form. The painted lady caterpillars continue feeding for about two weeks and it prepares itself for pupation.

Chrysalis ​(7 to 10 Days)

​Once the caterpillar is ready to pupate and go into its chrysalis it will find a safe area. Usually away from the host plants to stay safe from predators that may attack the chrysalis in its vulnerable state. The caterpillars will find a horizontal substrate on were it will create its silk button and it will hang upside down in a J form. The caterpillars will get ready to shed their skin for the last time after hanging upside down for about 24 hours. Once the brown chrysalis is formed the painted lady will remain in this stage for about 7 to 10 days before it emerges. The painted lady is able to do a “j dance” which is when it moves in a circular motion while it is still attached to a silk button. This is to scare off predators from attacking the chrysalis. Prior to emerging the chrysalis will turn clear and you will be able to see the wings of the butterfly.


After 7 to 10 days the caterpillars emerge from the chrysalis. At first the wings seem small and the butterfly has a large abdomen. The abdomen is filled with fluids that will be pumped into its wings over the next few minutes. Extra fluids are disposed by the butterfly 

which is a red liquid known as meconium. The freshly emerged butterfly will not be able to fly for the next few hours until the fluids are pumped into its wings and they have hardened. After a few hours the butterfly will be ready to fly and feed on numerous

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